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Yoga proves beneficial in breast cancer treatment

August 2006
Yoga proves beneficial in breast cancer treatment

Yoga proves beneficial in breast cancer treatment

Yoga, meaning "to bring together or merge", creates strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body. This combination of exercise and meditation is rooted in ancient Indian traditions and has been practiced in Eastern cultures for more than 5,000 years.

Its benefits have recently been "discovered" and popularized in Western society. Today, people practice yoga to feel fitter, be more energetic, and be happier and more peaceful.

But now researchers are discovering that there is another reason, a medical reason, to practice yoga, and have some preliminary results to show just that.

A pilot study by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, one of the first scientific studies of its kind, has found that yoga can prove beneficial to women undergoing breast cancer treatment. 61 women, undergoing radiation for breast cancer treatment, were recruited. They were then randomized to (1) a yoga group whose participants were asked to participate in two weekly sessions of yoga in conjunction with their radiation treatment and (2) a control group, who did not practice yoga. According to Dr. Cohen, traditionally women that are receiving radiation for breast cancer treatment receive radiation 5 days a week for a whole 6 weeks.

The yoga sessions incorporated basic aspects of Hatha yoga, some simple warm-up exercises, several asanas (simple postures), some pranayama – a breathing technique – along with a deep-relaxation technique and a meditation technique.

According to Dr. Cohen, "our main finding was a significant difference between the groups on measures of physical functioning, measures of perceived general health, some effect on levels of fatigue as well as a measure that assesses sleep-related daytime dysfunction."

So what does this all mean? It means that the women who did yoga found an improvement in the ability to engage in common daily activities such as lifting a bag of groceries, walking a block, or up a flight of stairs, dressing themselves, while the control group experienced deterioration in the same.

Although there is a fair amount of literature showing that yoga can help with many chronic illnesses because of its multifaceted nature, there are very few published studies that look at benefits of yoga in cancer as a whole. In fact, Dr. Cohen and his group have done a study involving Tibetan yoga and patients suffering with lymphoma and found that patients in the yoga group as compared to those in the control group had significantly lower incidences of sleep disturbances.

Comparing the benefits of yoga in breast cancer treatment to other forms of exercise and meditation that have been studied in the treatment of cancer, Dr. Cohen states, "Meditation is useful in helping aspects of mood and physical activity and has been found to be useful to improve quality of life and fatigue levels. Different things are going to be beneficial for different people. For somebody who is physically active?jogs, swims, plays golf, incorporating a meditation program might be useful to them. For someone who is a little more sedentary, a full yoga program might be more appropriate."

So whether you suffer from breast cancer or have made yoga a part of your daily, active lifestyle, Dr. Cohen adds with determination, "I have no doubt the benefits (from yoga) will be there for everybody – regardless of whether you have cancer, or heart disease or are a relatively healthy person!"

- By Anu Ghosh Bharucha

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